Graveyards and Abandoned Hospitals.

Another roasting hot day was met with gusto as we headed out into the city centre.  We had arranged to meet up with two couchsurfers who were visiting Warsaw for a few days and were looking for good, vegan food. I recommended the brilliant Lovin’ Hut on Jana Pawla II, and they kindly invited us to join then for a spot of lunch.  The food has never disappointed me there, and it still hasn’t, though I did have to have a second choice because the first was sold out (quick tip, get there early if you want to a chance to sample something from the whole menu).  This time I had ‘Teriyaki Island”, and it was very very good as usual, the soy dressing is really well done, and their little rice piles perfect for the size of dish.  I would recommend this place to absolutely anyone, no matter what your diet or eating preference, even the strictest carnivore can’t fail to be impressed or satisfied here!

After lunch we went our separate ways and Marta and I headed to the Jewish Graveyard, to see it in the sunlight, and hopefully to cool down.  The place was really beautiful in the sunshine and the trees made the light dappled and beautiful, as well as making the temperature bearable.  The biggest problem however was the abundance of hungry mosquitos, baying for our blood.  But we just about survived, though the next day my legs looked like someone had filled them with pink ping pong balls!  (toothpaste and lemon seem to be doing the trick at keeping the itching down a bit though)

We jumped on a tram, intending to head straight home, but stopped off in the city centre and ended up inside the old children’s hospital on Jerozolimskie, ‘Szpital Omega’.  This is slowly being turned into artist’s studios and there is access to the building thanks to a tiny boutique that has opened up on the 3rd floor.  The whole building is pretty accessible if you don’t mind the piles of rubble lying around and we had a good old snoop throughout the place, which has got some creepy stuff still kicking about. The picture above is of the old oxygen cabinet, and there are some more photos below, which gives you a bit of an idea of how cool it is to explore this place, before it all gets neatened up.

Tired and sleepy we headed back home to enjoy the cool flat and some nice cups of tea.  I have, at long last, got myself a bag of normal green Mate, which is very very welcome at all times of the day and a good change from the roasted one that I have been drinking lately. I do wish I had brought my Bombilla from home though, the ones in Warsaw are all rather expensive. That’s exoticism in Poland for you!

A really amazing tombstone, possibly my favorite!

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China pops in on Chopin

Park Lazienki, the Royal Park is currently hosting a little bit of China along one of it’s avenues.  Two long rows of beautiful red Chinese lanterns line the path way and cross a little bridge where some (rather stylized) Chinese characters sit.  The lanterns are really beautiful, with so many different designs it’s impossible to count.  During June they were lit up between 9 and 11 every night, but now we are in July they are just being lit up on a Friday Saturday and Sunday night, but it is worth a visit, and to wander around the whole park at night is quite beautiful experience.  There are pretty much no other lights in the park apart from the lanterns, so it is very very dark if you are still there by 11.  It does make for a really nice evening out though.  The second to last image is probably the best for demonstrating how beautiful some of these lanterns are.


Day 18, Helsinki, January 27th 2012

Tea 18: Chocolate Tea!, Fazer Cafe, Helsinki, also Green Tea with Strawberry and Vanilla (left).

Today was such a beautiful sunny day, the sunniest of my time in Finland so far.  I took the train into town for the last of my travel card trips.  The sun was shining down and glinting off of the soft white banks of snow as I day dreamed out of the window.  Once I arrived at Rautatieasema (Helsinki Central Station) I headed north-west, up past Kiasma and the parliament and congress buildings, the sun behind me, actually managing to feel a little warm on my back at points.  I was heading back towards Seurasaari, to visit the art museum Meilahti again, mostly to pick up the pack of cards I had seen there but been unable to buy a few days previous.  It was great to be in proper sunshine again, you don’t realise how much you miss it until it comes back.  And with the snow all around reflecting it all it felt like I was bathing in it.  I wandered through patches of woodland that line the coast, the snow deep and crunchy beneath my feet.  I made it to the museum and had another wander around the exhibits, taking in the ones I had not spent so much time with at my last visit a little more.  After that I headed back towards the city centre.  Following the coastline a little longer this time, I passed another park and gave it a short look, an interesting sculpture dedicated to Sibelius, ‘the most famous composer Finland has ever produced’, according to Eeero, though his wife is ‘the best composer, Sibelius is just the most famous’.  It’s a beautiful piece of sculpture, n doubt helped by the sun glinting off of the pipes.

By the time I had made it into town I was starving hungry, so I decided to pig-out and go to the chinese buffet that had rescued my stomach on the first day.  It took me ages to find it though, after stumbling on it by accident knowing nothing about the city on my first day, learning more about the city and getting my bearings had totally erased it’s location from my mind. After a good 20 minutes searching I finally found it.  I ate and filled myself up basically completely, pretty sure I over did it just a bit.  But it was good and got the cold out of my bones at least.  After that I went to meet Ella, the couchsurfing girl again.  We met in central station and headed to a cinema to check the schedule.  At the minute in Helsinki is a documentary film festival, called DocPoint.  We looked through the timetable and decided on an intriguing and slightly disturbing sounding film about a cathedral built from 12,000 white dresses, with the addition of some menstrual blood for good measure.  The film is called Water Children, and it was being screened at the Maxim Cinema.  The film is actually extremely beautiful, not at all what either of us expected.  The cinematography is wonderful and the perspective on the idea of menstrual blood completely different from what either of us expected.  The artist, Tomoko Mukaiyama, a Japanese Pianist, early on describes the blood as ‘the only blood that isn’t negative or aggressive.’  The film is beautiful, heart wrenching and funny.  It is a really wonderful film, directed by Aliona van der Horst, I urge anyone with the chance to go and see it, to go and see it.

After the film it was a short trip next door to Fazer, the Finnish Chocolatier cafe.  Inside is sprawling with chocolates, cakes, every treat imaginable.  I went for a wonderful Chocolate tea, tea leaves with added pieces of cocoa beans, it was rich and really tasty.  I have had chocolate tea before, but this one was much better, no real bitterness, just smooth and elegant.  Alongside it I treated myself to a bar of Fazer Milk Chocolate with Pistachio and Salt.  A great combination, even if it was milk chocolate!  Ella went for a lovely refreshing and clear Green Tea with Strawberry and Vanilla, alongside a fruit filled pastry, for some reason called a Weiner!  After a good chatter and some more laughs we went our separate ways and I headed home for some dinner (yet more food!!!)


Day 13, Helsinki / Vantaa / Seurasaari, January 22nd 2012

Tea 13: Vihreä Tee (Green Tea) with Goji, Tyrni (Buckthorn) and Karpalo (Cranberry), Caffi, Helsinki.

First things first, last night.  My first experience of a proper Finnish Sauna!  In fact my first experience of a sauna of any kind!  There is one in the house I am staying in and it is apparently tradition that a sauna is had every Saturday.  And blimey, it was an experience.  Eeero apparently has saunas HOT, I was warned of this before, but having never had one at all I had basically no inkling of what that really meant.  But what it did mean was 90’C!  Initially I didn’t really know what to think of it, I couldn’t really understand the whole thing, but I think I do now.  After the first bout of heat I went out an took a cool shower then went back in, this time I still didn’t quite get it.  I got out again and this time let myself cool down properly with a cool shower and a sit down to catch my breath again.  Then, once I’d psyched myself up again I went back in.  This time and then the next was when I realised that the sensation is actually quite enjoyable, I think probably as your body starts to defend itself and you get a bit euphoric, I even had a strange shiver at some point that felt pretty good.  That and a couple of beers followed by a nice helping of Eeero’s homemade liquorice vodka and the night was a good one, full of chatter and laughs, think I got to bed at about 2a.m.

Today I headed, once again, into Helsinki and from there took a tram north-west to Meilahdentie, I got off the tram and made my way through a little patch of snow smothered park land to Meilahti, one of the bases for the Helsinki art museum, Helsingin taidemuseo.  They are currently showing a collection of new work acquisitions.  For the past 6 years or so the Museum has been buying contemporary works from young Finnish artists and this was a mere 50 or so of the 400 they have so far acquired.  There was some interesting stuff; a reasonably immersive set of three videos by the artist Jani Ruscica, as well as some interesting and amusing photographic pieces by Antti Keitila.

After my visit I headed onto the island of Seurasaari, this tiny island is best know for being an open air museum of buildings and structures, reminiscent of the Skansen Open-Air Museum in Stockholm.  The building have all been brought to the densely wooded island from elsewhere in Finland and they act as representation of the older, simpler days of life in Finland.  The oldest building, the Karuna Church, dates back to 1686!  The island was quiet and peaceful and very beautiful, with views out across the water back towards the city centre and another island, Vattuniemi.  Red berries and green pine needles stood out against the perfect white sheets of snow that cover the ground whilst birds chitter away in the trees, feeding from bird feeders dotted throughout the island.  I also encountered the islands tallest Spruce, at a whopping 30metres!

After that long, lovely walk in the fresh crisp cold air I headed back to the tram stop, luckily managed to jump straight onto a tram and back into the city centre.  I was now on the hunt for tea.  After two failed attempts, one being shut, the other where I almost got my nose taken off by the woman slamming the door in my face (it would seem I had inadvertently interrupted some sort of tea event, and despite my apologies she didn’t seem best pleased, ‘No, no, no’ were the only words uttered), I thought I had failed in my mission for the day so I went and got something to eat, a satisfying Thai dish of rice noodles, coconut and red thai paste with tofu and shrimp.  I then headed back towards the station but my attention was quickly drawn to the chinese new year event being held behind the Lasipalatsi (glass palace) shopping / restaurant arcade.  I had a meander amongst the stalls on the hopes of finding tea, there was some but alas over-priced and uninspired options.  I then noticed a little cafe in the Lasipalatsi complex that looked promising.  They had a fairly large wall of teas.  I asked the waitress what she would recommend and after a disappointing few sniffs of some overly flavoured and floral mixes I settled on the Green Tea with Goji berries, Cranberries and Buckthorn.  The tea was a little disappointing.  The water was too hot and this had burned the tea immediately, making it bitter and heavy.  And I felt that the taste had been compromised in some way, it may have been the combination of flavours, but I think it may have been flavoured rather than mixed, there were definitely Goji berries in it, but as for the others I’m not so sure, there was just a distinct flavouring taste in there that reminded me of the weird fake ‘fruit tea’ you can buy.  But anyway, it was ok, but I won’t rush back for more, and next time I’ll pick a tea that can hack boiling water.  They seemed to have a large Rooibos selection….

Tonight Finland gets a new President!